The Islamists’ second fall in Algeria

The Brotherhood project, which is pinning its failure on conspiracies and hostile forces, does not want to acknowledge its political bankruptcy,
Wednesday 14/07/2021
Abdelrazzak Makri, the leader of the Algerian Islamist party Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), gives a news conference in the capital Algiers, on June 30, 2021. (REUTERS)
Abdelrazzak Makri, the leader of the Algerian Islamist party Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), gives a news conference in the capital Algiers, on June 30, 2021. (REUTERS)

When Brotherhood members in Algeria wanted to present to public opinion their level of openness and the obsolescence of stereotypical image of the beard and the qamis, they tried adjusting their narratives.

The head of the Movement for a Society for Peace spoke of “kisses,” while the head of the National Construction Movement (Harakat Al-bina Al-watani) wanted to transform itself as he used the word “Viagra” in a political context.

But the popular verdict came down harshly underlining their defeat in any political fight that takes place under normal circumstances.

It appears that Islamists of all  hues are trapped in the ruins of the bloody decade (1990-2000) when some of them issued a fatwa prohibiting democracy and the transition of power. They called instead for jihad for the sake of God.

Now, they want to get rid of that image by going to the opposite extreme, despite the risky step of showing their great ability to adapt to all situations and so revealing publicly their true colours.

It seems that the renewed polemic about electoral fraud and an active Brotherhood political force, which ranks third in terms of parliamentary representation and could even be first, were an alliance between “Hams” and Al-Bina established, rings hollow with voters.

The figures published by the Constitutional Council indicated that the two Islamist formations obtained only about 300,000 votes from a total of more than 24 million Algerian electors and that every Brotherhood seat in the new parliament represents only about 3,000 Algerians.

The Islamists who are captive of their bloody past and their shattered ambitions after 2011 sought to remould themselves but the result has been the opposite.

The story of Abdelrazzak Makri dancing to the beat of the Palestinian dabkeh and his talk about kissing as well as his rival Abdelkader Bengrina’s using Viagra as a figure of speech for politics, did not achieve their purpose. In fact, the result was the opposite of what they intended.

These Islamist politicians maintained their conservative political and Da’wa-geared narratives until the last legislative elections, when Makri wanted to suggest to his supporters and public opinion that “Hams” and the Hams sympathisers are not the party of the beard and the qamis as some believe. He recalled  how a female journalist was introduced to the late founder of the movement, Mahfoudh Nahnah, in the early 1990s.

The purpose of the introduction at the time what to force a handshake that would have embarrassed him in front of the audience and the media. But one of the aides of Nahnah, according to Makri, blocked her way and told her, “The sheikh does not shake hands, but we do kiss.” So the embarrassment changed camps. It was the reporter who was embarrassed not the movement’s leader.

Despite the experience of the Brotherhood and the leadership’s presumed profound scrutiny of the Algerian political landscape, it seems that the Islamists are still far from understanding the character and mindset of the Algerian voter, and from comprehending the real reasons for the reluctance of Algerians to vote at all.

It seems that Makri, who wanted to tell his supporters and voters that “Hams” is a party of openness that is not trapped in a rigid past, has failed to understand that one of the reasons for reluctance of Algerians to vote was the phenomenon of politicians’ inconsistency and malleability.

The Algerian voter wants the candidate or the party of his choice to be really who and what they say they are. Therefore Makri’s statements were ridiculed on social networks and were perhaps a reason that Algerians chose to punish the largest Brotherhood party by giving it only 206,000 votes.

Two great football stars Lakhdar Belloumi and Abdelhakim Sarrar once ran in elections, but did not win the popular vote. The most likely explanation for their electoral rejection was that the public in the governorates of Mascara and Setif wanted to tell the two men, ‘We want you as two football stars and not as parliamentarians and our love for you both is reserved for the football pitch and does not extend to the corridors of power’.

The fall of the Islamists was not only driven home by the 300,000 votes received by their two largest parliamentary blocs, but also by the real setback of other Brotherhood offshoots. Abdallah Jaballah’s Party (Justice and Development Front) received only about 7,000 votes, while Ennahda, Reform and the New Algeria Front received only a few thousand ballots each.

And while Jaballah admitted that the party’s constituencies had abstained from voting in the first place and justified their behaviour by the boycott and the political situation in general, he avoided acknowledging that the constituencies were more aware of the circumstances of the election than their leadership.

He could not admit that these constituencies and even the Algerian street at large could no longer tolerate political elites who have not changed since their parties were founded over 30 years ago,  nor Islamist MPs who have kept their seats in parliament for many successive electoral terms.

Bengrina, the leader of the second Brotherhood faction, did not find any better term to describe the revival of political action except “Viagra”.

In a new party practice  imitating senior politicians around the world, he introduced his wife and his teenage son Al-Bara (whom he also nominated to run in the elections). But neither convinced Algerian voters that Al-Binaa is an open movement. So the party took fifth place with a voter base of around100,000.

The Brotherhood, which is pinning the failure of its project on conspiracies and hostile forces, does not want to acknowledge its own political bankruptcy, nor even to understand that in all its wavering it has lost its appeal because people have discovered its true colour.